Cait Howerton, AFC®, is relatively new to the financial planning profession—but she’s already making waves. Howerton is an advocate for inclusion and equity in the financial planning profession. She’s an LGBTQ-plus and student loan money specialist.
Howerton is passionate about helping other people find purpose and meaning in their finances and wants to help the financial planning profession grow to start connecting with people from all backgrounds and sexual orientations. In a recent episode of my podcast, Howerton shared her story about how she interviewed at a larger firm and immediately connected with the interviewers. However, upon meeting her in person, she was told she wouldn’t resonate well with their clients, and they thanked her for her time.
Discriminatory hiring is still happening in the financial planning profession (and beyond). Unfortunately, many firm owners aren’t sure how to align their hiring process with their diversity goals. Howerton recently gave us actionable tips to implement better hiring practices and other ways financial planning firms can start to pursue inclusivity.
1.) You almost left the planning profession. What made you stay?
I almost deuced out of the financial planning profession because of that experience. It had already been challenging for me as I grew up in Arkansas a member of the LGBTQ-plus community—which isn’t really readily accepted still, even in 2019—so seeing myself in the profession and having visibility was something that I didn’t have at that time.
I think my own passion for what we do [made me stay]. I didn’t want someone else to be the end of my story. That wasn’t a period, it was a semicolon, like Project Semicolon, just keep going. It gets better. For me that was the point that I was like, I have to keep going because there are people out there who need help with their finances and they need help with their money scripts and they need to be able to see people like us in this profession so that they know that they are not alone.
2.) You’ve interviewed at different firms and have some knowledge around hiring practices. What are some of the best practices that you can share from the firm you’re with now?
First start with yourself. Go take an intrinsic bias test. Harvard offers a good one. We all carry biases within us that were ingrained since we were kids. It’s very hard to break those things, but we can at least start with being aware of them, addressing them, seeing how those subliminal things pop up within us to see how we would see someone else and then how we present ourselves.
From there, the next place would be your job posting. Check out the language you’re using when you’re running your job posting. Is it heavily feminine? Is it heavily masculine? There are feminine words, which are lighter, and there are masculine alert words, which hit harder. When you put a lot of words like dominate, aggressive, things like that, it starts to lead the job posting in a more masculine direction. You can throw those through an online screener—there are several available.
Studies have shown that by using fewer masculine words, you attract more women and other minority group members, but it doesn’t have a negative impact on men.
If you’re focused on gender equity, which you should be, that’s where you want to start. The next thing is your posting location. More men are hired based on word of mouth. They use their network, versus more women and minorities who more use third-party listing sites. So, make sure you have an online presence.
3.) Most jobs are found via word-of-mouth in your community—so if your community is homogeneous and everyone looks and thinks just like you, then you’re going to just hire more people just like you. What are some of the other things that these firm owners or people who are in the hiring space can do now? They’ve posted the job, they’ve made sure they posted it at various locations. What’s next?
The next thing is your screening and interview process. Are you doing an open resume or a closed resume? What [a closed resume] means is when you get resumes or applications coming through, and they are passed off to an assistant or someone who’s not involved with the hiring process—or even if it’s you—print them off and go through every single paper copy, then have them cut [or you cut] out the name. If you’re going through resumes in a digital form, which is a little more difficult, have someone else screen those resumes or even print them off. Take the name off of resumes because a female or someone who has a black or brown name, there [might be] that intrinsic bias that’s going to pop up again and they have less of a chance to get hired just because of their name.
4.) You’ve gone through the recruiting process, you’ve posted the description, they’ve gone through the interview process and now the person is hired. What type of benefits should firms be looking at to include the planners we want to bring into our profession?
The first thing that comes to mind is parental leave. I say parental, you’ll notice, I didn’t say maternity or paternity leave because it’s parents and we have a bunch of diverse family types. This isn’t just about LGBTQ family types—you’ve got a single mom, you potentially have a mom and aunt, you have a nuclear family, you have an extended family. So that is something that’s very important when you’re considering drafting out your policy.
If your parental leave policy is that if a woman carries a child and she gets 12 weeks, does their partner also get 12 weeks? Do they get to be home when that baby is brought into the world? And what about adoption? That can be for female individuals, for male individuals. Do you offer the same benefits to people who are adopting and even if it’s not 12 weeks, is it four weeks, six weeks? I’ve seen things like primary caregiver and secondary caregiver. What does that mean? Because I know for sure that both people or all three people are caregiving in that house.
I think it’s really important to visit that because what you’re doing there is making sure that it’s a level playing field. Everyone’s receiving the same financial benefits from your company, but you’re also making sure that their family unit is tended to so that when they come back to work, you know that they’re good.
5.) What about the client side? What should we be thinking about when we’re thinking about our website and wanting to be planners to all types of clients?
You have to understand what your website is for. Your website is your front door to your business. In this day in age, we have a presence that is larger than just the town or city that you’re currently in. So you’re able to generate clients and show who you are online in a way that we never have been able to before. The thing to start with is who and what are on your website? Go look at that copy and go look at those photos on your website. You want to see that you have representation of white, black, brown, Asian, Middle Eastern, everybody, if you want to show that you are willing to work with any person, and not just someone who looks like you.
That leads to other things also, such as do you have any LGBTQ individuals on your website? Do you have any people with disabilities on your website? Seeing yourself within a page and within a space creates an initial safety in your [potential clients’] subconscious. Same thing with your copy. If you focus on working with women, you’re probably going to say something about it. But if you also want to let people know, hey, if you’re LGBTQ, you’re absolutely welcome here. Throw that up within a diversity statement and potentially even create a landing page. Talk, write some articles, write blog posts, show that you understand the issues that that particular community faces.
Rianka R. Dorsainvil, CFP® professional, is the founder and president of Your Greatest Contribution (YGC), a virtual, fee-only comprehensive financial planning firm dedicated to serving entrepreneurs, first-generation wealth builders and thriving professionals in their late 20s, 30s and 40s. She also hosts 2050 TrailBlazers, a podcast aimed to address the lack of diversity in the financial planning profession by engaging industry experts and leaders in conversation.